Durban, South Africa, touts itself as “the warmest place to be,” a place of friendly people and year-round balmy temperatures. This vibrant harbor city on the eastern shore of South Africa, in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, is an amalgamation of cultures. Durban sits on the Indian Ocean and is an hour by air from Johannesburg. It hosted eight FIFA World Cup games in 2010 at the famous Moses Mabhida Stadium and Africa Travel Indaba, Africa’s largest travel trade show, at the International Convention Center every year.
Spend a few days in South Africa’s third-largest urban area to take in the golden beaches, immerse in the Zulu culture, shop to your heart’s content, and savor cuisine infused with flavors from various nationalities. Just a few hours from the city center, you’ll find multiple upscale safari camps and attractions like Drakensberg Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site home to South Africa’s highest mountains and Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park, the oldest nature reserve in Africa.
To get you started, here are 10 things to do in Durban:
1. Explore the Golden Mile
The 3.7-mile stretch of sandy beach known as the Golden Mile is one of Durban’s main attractions. You can sunbathe, swim or go for a walk along the promenade, or wake up early to catch a spectacular sunrise over the Indian Ocean and spot surfers catching waves. You may find vervet monkeys playing as you wander through the gardens along the beach. Nightclubs, restaurants, shops and many hotels are found beachside.
2. Stroll Victoria Street Market
Make sure you give yourself plenty of time when visiting Victoria Street Market, where you’ll find everything from Zulu beaded jewelry to barrels of Indian spices and curry powders. Rebuilt in the early 1980s after a fire destroyed the 1910 Indian Market, the extensive indoor bazaar is a feast for the senses, with incense-infused air and brightly colored wares. The ground floor also has a food market selling fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables.
3. Thrill-seek at Moses Mabhida Stadium
The iconic “arch of triumph” of the Moses Mabhida Stadium can be seen all around Durban. The stunning stadium, built for the FIFA World Cup in 2010, holds 70,000 seats—and boasts the world’s highest commercial swing, the Big Rush Big Swing, which allows you to leap out swinging into the center of the stadium for the thrill of a lifetime. Today, the stadium hosts large-scale sporting events and plays host to the Essence Festival, which celebrates South African culture through entertainment, food, art, fashion, and more.
4. Eat bunny chow on Florida Road
The most talked-about food in Durban is bunny chow, a loaf of bread hollowed out and filled with delicious curry. While you can get it at most restaurants in the city, the best place to taste it is on Florida Road, where you’ll also find shopping and nightlife. Florida Road is famous for preserved 100-year-old Edwardian structures interspersed with sidewalk cafes, boutiques and eateries. After the sun sets, the street comes alive with bars and clubs abuzz with locals and travelers.
5. Visit the KwaMuhle Museum
Housed in the former Native Affairs Building in the central business district, the KwaMuhle Museum documents life in and around Durban during and leading up to the apartheid era. You’ll find photographs of township life and exhibits on the contributions of the people responsible for the development of Durban as one of Africa’s leading cities.
Tip: Don’t miss the museum’s courtyard where the Shadows of the Past sculpture by Durban-born artists Ledelle Moe sits. The sculptures of three naked migrant workers represent their lack of protection and their sitting posture relates to the idea of waiting.
6. Head north to Umhlanga Rocks
Located 10 miles north of the city center, Umhlanga Rocks is an inviting area with sun-kissed golden beaches and luxury hotels. Whether you’re staying at the Oyster Box or the Beverly Hills Hotel, rest assured that you’ll be treated to an indulgent stay overlooking the sparkling waters of the Indian Ocean. If you’re just visiting the area, make sure to drop by the Oyster Box for the curry buffet in the Mediterranean-inspired Ocean Terrace, arguably one of the most indulgent culinary experiences in Durban. Some of the popular activities available here include whale-watching, deep-sea fishing, dolphin-viewing, and kiteboarding.
7. See history along the Inanda Heritage Route
Located 18 miles north of Durban city center, Inanda Valley has historical roots that run deep. The Inanda Heritage Route winds through the valley, providing a glimpse into critical moments in the history of South Africa. Start the trail at the Phoenix Settlement, established in 1904 by Mahatma Gandhi, where a museum provides insight into his life. Up the road, at the Ohlange Institute, the first educational institution founded by a black person in South Africa, you’ll find the home and gravesite of Dr. John Dube, the first president of the ANC (African National Congress). This is also the site where Mandela cast his first democratic vote to mark the journey of a democratic South Africa in 1994.
8. Tour iSithumba Zulu village in the Valley of 1,000 Hills
A short 30-minute drive from Durban brings you to unspoiled nature in the Valley of 1,000 Hills, an area aptly named for its verdant rolling hills dotted with traditional Zulu homesteads. At the iSithumba Zulu village, located within the valley, you can take a guided tour of the village and meet with the village spiritual healer in her home. The tour includes beautiful performances of spirited Zulu dance and a Zulu cooking lesson and a delicious lunch.
9. Listen to beautiful music in Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park
Ukhahlamba-Drakensberg Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site located 110 miles northwest of Durban. The majestic mountain range is the highest in Southern Africa, with peaks rising up to 11,400 feet. The park showcases nearly 20,000 individually painted rock art images done by the San, Southern Africa’s earliest inhabitants. In the central Drakensberg area, you’ll find one of the world’s most famous choir schools, the Drakensberg Boys Choir School, where you can attend at concert. Popular activities in the park include hiking, rafting, helicopter rides, and visits to the Falcon Ridge Birds of Prey Center in Champaign Valley.
10. Hluhluwe–iMfolozi Game Park
The 370-square-mile Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Park lies in the heart of the Zulu Kingdom within a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Durban. The Hluhluwe and iMfolozi game reserves were established in 1895, making the combined region one of Africa’s oldest established wilderness areas. Hluhluwe in the north is characterized by towering grasslands and possesses diverse bird and animal life, while the iMfolozi section in the south is known for its wide-open spaces. Take a game drive to spot the “Big Five” along with zebra, giraffe, waterbuck, and more.
King Shaka International Airport (DUR) is located 25 minutes north of the Durban city center and offers international access as well as domestic flights to major South African cities. The flight time between Durban and Johannesburg is one hour, and Durban to Cape Town is two hours. Upon arrival, you can take a taxi or a shuttle to your hotel.
Where to stay
Durban offers a variety of accommodations, from five-star to family-friendly and budget hotels, located close to major attractions. In the upscale resort area of Umhlanga Rocks, opt for a luxurious stay at either the Oyster Box or the Beverly Hills Hotel. Along the Golden Mile beachfront, the Southern Sun Elangeni & Maharani hotel stands out as a great option for budget-friendly travelers.
For more South Africa: 10 Off-the-Beaten-Path Things to Do in South Africa